A majority of Americans may not know who Shannon Kent is. She once admitted it was hard, even for her, to explain to people what she did for the Navy SEALs and the NSA.
Only now, after she was killed by a suicide bombing in Syria in January, are we learning just what she did, and just how incredible her talents were.
Kent was the noncommissioned officer in charge at the N.S.A.’s operations directorate for four years. As a cryptologic technician, Kent was responsible for recognizing, translating, and breaking codes in the field, with cryptology, sigint, and humint.
As her husband, Joe Kent, told the New York Times, she helped the task force “find the right guys to paint the ‘X’ on for a strike or a raid.”
“Cryptology is code breaking; sigint is signals intelligence, like intercepting and interpreting phone calls and other communications; humint is human intelligence, the art of persuading people, against their instincts, to provide information,” the NYT maintains.
“She’d tell me, ‘You can say what you do in two words, but I have to explain over and over to people what I do, and half of them don’t believe me,’” said Joe, who retired from the special forces after 20 years of service. “As the years went on, she wished she could just say, ‘Hey, I’m Joe, and I’m a Green Beret.’
“In many ways, she did way more than any of us who have a funny green hat.”
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Kent spoke six different dialects of Arabic. She was able to make connections in investigations that her counterparts couldn’t without help.
And she was just as strong as them, in every way.
“She understood how all the pieces came together,” Joe said. “She wasn’t just relying on local informants. She knew how to fill in the gaps through her knowledge of different intelligence capabilities. She was kind of a one-stop-shop for finding bad guys.”
Kent was promoted to senior chief petty officer and awarded five medals and citations after her death, which also prompted a call for systematic change in the Navy.
According to Stripes, the Navy denied Kent’s plans to attend a clinical psychology program because she had once been diagnosed with thyroid cancer. The diagnosis did not hold back from service, however, and she was sent to Syria for her fifth combat tour in November 2018.
“There were many shortcomings in Shannon’s case, mainly in our communications throughout and in fundamental flaws in our waiver and appeal process — I offer no excuses,” Adm. William Moran, vice chief of naval operations wrote to the Kent family. “… We believe this new policy will improve the quality, fairness, and consistency of the medical waiver process for all enlisted to officer commissioning programs, and I will report back to you in one year to inform you of our progress.”
Kent’s body was brought home to the United States on January 19, as were the bodies of two others killed in the attack; an Army Green Beret with four children, and a former Navy SEAL working for the Pentagon’s intelligence agency. You can see a video of the dignified transfer below.
Matthew Russell is a West Michigan native and with a background in journalism, data analysis, cartography and design thinking. He likes to learn new things and solve old problems whenever possible, and enjoys bicycling, going to the dog park, spending time with his daughter, and coffee.